A Tale of Two Families

The humidity has been very high every morning this week causing heavy fog to billow up like gigantic poufy sausages beginning at the very edge of the swake and rolling towards the house until everything is shrouded in the grey mist.  Only the edges of the grassy banks are visible from the living room windows once the mist has swaddled the swake.  We have been watching the grassy banks religiously during our waking hours picking up family and community tips from the two pairs of geese who are raising their young on the swake.

Every morning the adults have ventured from their nests in the reeds, up into the willows and long grass that edge the swake shores.  The grass is so long we could only see the black and white heads of the parents. Their bodies were completely enveloped in grass; they looked like periscopes bobbing along the top of the grassy sea twisting and turning to spy any possible danger.  Rarely were both parents looking the same direction.  They were very strategic about scouting out the possible risks or threats to their families, constantly scanning the horizon and keeping those curious little goslings between them at all times.

Eventually, when ma and pa deemed it safe the little ones were allowed to spill out of the long grass into plain sight.  But ma and pa always went first, and even once the little ones were allowed to come out one parent stayed on high alert with head rotating nearly 360 degrees to spot any danger.  One family at a time would breach the long grass so their goslings could peck away at the ground for whatever sustenance was available.  As the babies avidly feasted, one parent would go off duty and eat while the other parent remained on guard.

Sometimes the families stayed in close proximity to each other and all four parents appeared to be cooperating in the care.  When they were going to travel significant distance across the shorter grass and further away from the safety of the water's edge the families would travel together.  One parent out front and the other three forming a phalanx around the goslings.  It was a true team effort to get that group of little geese from one body of water to another.  Other times we have spotted them swimming with only two parents on duty and all the goslings from both family groups between them.  Greg has hypothesized that the geese take turns running a floating daycare in the warm mid-day sun while the other two parents play hooky or take a nap.

Back and forth across the meadow they travelled and we watched the spectacle at least twice a day marveling at the solemn strategic cooperation of four adult geese shepherding a dozen oblivious unpredictable goslings.  Occasionally their strolls and grazing have been interrupted by the resident dogs who wake from a sunny noon nap to realize that other critters are on the property.  On those occasions one or two parents stand their ground between their goslings and the approaching dog while the other parents chase their little ones into the safety of the tall grass.  The parents who were on guard were fearless, staring down a dog much larger than themselves and hissing.  The dogs have learned not to chase the goslings because the parents have been so determined and fearless.  We have been enthralled by the parenting skills of the geese and have pondered aloud about the innate wisdom of the geese in combining forces to care for their families.  We have watched their commitment to their little community of two families and their determination to care for one another, and we have learned from them.